Tuesday, March 11, 2014

8 Fun Facts About the Irish Language

Donna Champion posted 8 Fun Facts About the Irish Language from MentalFloss on my Facebook wall. Which got me on a roll, despite my deep exhaustion from the weekend. Donna said, "I think Yoda uses the same syntax (VSO) #3."

Irish sentences have Verb Subject Object word order. So "I saw a bird" would be "Saw I a bird." And "I always speak Irish" would be "Speak I Irish always." This particular word order is relatively rare in any language family tree—only a few of the world's languages use it. Welsh is constructed as VSO.  no P. Personally, I like VSOP brandy.

Actually Irish kicks it up a notch, it is a VSOP (preposition) language. You cannot construct sentences without conjugating the prepositions too.  It's left an imprint on the Hiberno-English spoken in Ireland. Sometimes Hiberno-English sentences are are direct translations, with fossilized Irish word order and all. That's the conjugated prepositions talking at you. Go raib maith agat — ag + at is —at you (singular). "I'm after eating my breakfast" becomes a kind of slanguage.

The name of the Irish language is "Irish." This is true today, but it was NOT always called Irish 100 years ago. It was simply called Erse, or Gaelic. It started being called Irish in the 1960s.

Irish had five dialects. Scottish Gaelic is technically a dialect, not a separate language. (But don't tell the Scots that.) And it was called Scots Gaelic (but pronounced garlic/Gallic vs Gae-lic to differentiate, but there was still too much confusion. So Irish Gaelic became Oyrish). Scots-Gaelic is basically Donegal Irish, with a slightly different spelling/orthography. Some Scottish spellings retain the same spelling as 17th c. Donegal Irish.

There's no one word for "yes" or "no" in Irish. It's true, you answer with a negative of the verb form, or copula. Is hea. Ni hea. It may only have eleven irregular verbs, but they are most irregular. My personal favorite is the "does be" form. "He does be drinking every day." Speaking of verbs, there is no intransitive verb: no verb "to eat." Just "eat." Which requires specific conjugation.

Counting is a bitch in Irish. Cardinals, ordinals, past, present. Not only what you're counting, but whether or not you're counting in 20s vs 10s. Animals tend to be counted in 20s. Also telling time is a bitch of another color entirely.

Irish is a very precise language. Going up or down stairs requires a Vulcan mind meld to correctly conjugate (relative to the speaker's and listener's positions whether or not you're at the foot, or the top of the stairs, and whether or not you're coming or going.) I would just avoid stairs entirely. Jump out the window instead. Easier than to construct a sentence with someone ascending or descending the stairs. Duchamp almost got it right in his painting, Nude Descending the Staircase.

And then there are the genitives...

added, rev. 3/2017

BBCs Beaf air Beag Learn a Scots-Gaelic song: 
Tha mi sgìth 's mi leam fhìn,
Buain na rainich, buain na rainich,
Tha mi sgìth 's mi leam fhìn,
Buain na rainich daonnan 

How the Welsh language was really invented  (meme)

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